Best of the Waterfront: circus camp
By Justin Robertson
The big top for juniors (Image: Ramsey Blacklock)
Backstage, five kids are concentrating hard. They are on stilts, wobbling about, with only moments to correct their balance before lumbering on stage. While they hover, parents are “oo-ing” and “ahh-ing” in the main arena, going giddy over the mini-trampoline act, in which kids are dazzling the crowd with flips. There is some serious flippage going on. Meanwhile, junior wannabe-clowns spend their time practicing goofy walks and wacky voices. This is life inside Harbourfront Centre’s circus camp for kids.
The circus camp is one of 46 kids’ camps offered by Harbourfront Centre over the summer. It seems like there is a camp for everyone: animal lovers; digital media buffs; kid chefs; aspiring architects; aspiring rock stars; fashionistas; even comic book enthusiasts. Last Friday marked the completion of the first round of summer camps.
Marsha Kennington, a circus camp instructor and former aerialist and acrobat, together with Harbourfront Centre, helped create the circus camp for kids. It’s now in its 24th consecutive year (and there’s one for adults too).
“The intention was to build a social circus using circus tools, where kids can learn how to co-operate with each other,” she says. “When kids come to camp, they may not be good at something, but then they find they can juggle before anyone else. It levels the playing field.”
During the two weeks, kids chance their arms on 16 different stations, such as trapeze, stilting, mini-trampolines, tight-wire, devil sticks, acrobatics and clowning. Once they find an act they like, they work with circus specialists to hone and craft their skills for the final day’s show, which is open to the public.
Athena Lamarre, a clown and aerial specialist of more than 10 years, says that teaching kids to perform has a certain “organic” feel to it.
“They have less excuses than adults do and are willing to try anything. Some kids are terrified hanging upside down, but there are varying degrees of fear,” she says. “The younger they are, the easier they are to teach, because when you get older you start to worry about what other people think of you.”
Last Friday, Lamarre warmed up the crowd with eight (kid) clowns. According to her, the rules for wearing the red nose are as follows: never take off or put on the nose in front of people; don’t touch it (ever); always maintain eye contact; be playful when wearing it; and say the first thing that comes into your head.
Jessica Barrera, the aerial hoop, acrobat and clown specialist, attended the circus camp as a teen and went on to forge a career in theatre and physical theatre.
“It’s incredibly fun. The kids keep coming back and some become camp counselors and specialists out of desire,” she says, pointing out that safety is a major priority when in training.
“Accidents will happen anywhere, like a bump on the head, but we’re specialists. We’ve done this before and know how to teach what we do in a safe way. It’s all part of what we do.”
The next circus camp show is on July 27.